Today we're going to talk about one of my favorite subjects: money. My first year of fulltime freelancing more than 19 years ago!), I made just over $17,000 and netted less than $12,000. My goal—my dream, really—was to be able to make $30,000 to $40,000 a year writing from home. By my sixth year of freelancing, though, I’d far surpassed my expectations and cracked the six-figure mark. Today I work part-time hours (my kids are now 10 and 6, and the latter is only in half-day kindergarten) and make between $30,000 and $60,000/year doing so. It’s challenging, but doable.
So how do it I do it? I’m not a “best-selling” author, nor am I commanding enormous book advances. But I have mastered some necessary skills that other freelancers overlook. I can tell you freelancers who make big bucks (and I know lots of them!) have many things in common. As a whole, they’re confident, efficient, focused, friendly, and adaptable.
Sure, they’re good writers—in fact, most of them are great writers. But they’re even better at running their writing businesses, working more efficiently, and developing relationships with clients, sources, and fellow writers. You can be, too—whether you’re aiming to make six figures or simply get paid more for your writing, when you embrace these five strategies:
Let’s start with your mindset. A tagline for a poplar antiperspirant used to be “never let them see you sweat.” Successful writers take this motto to heart. Sure, they doubt their abilities sometimes. All writers do. But they don’t share those feelings with their clients—or let self-doubt prevent them from working.
A positive attitude can give you a leg up on other writers. Focus on what you can do—sending out queries, calling new potential clients, scouting for regular gigs—rather than on what you can’t control. No, confidence in your abilities won’t force an editor to give you an assignment or turn a $4,000 advance into a $40,000 one. But you can choose to be positive as you pursue your career. Setbacks are normal. It’s how writers cope with them that makes a difference.
Use Time-Saving Strategies
In addition to working on assignments, you must devote time for marketing, billing, and record-keeping tasks that can easily eat up hours better spent producing income. That’s why developing and maintaining a selection of writing templates, or forms, on your hard drive can be invaluable.
For example, I have templates for different types of LOIs (letters of introduction); proposals/bids; invoices; contracts; follow-up letters; and even thank-you notes. This saves me time because I'm not recreating the wheel each time. I’m also a big believer in reusing research and writing about the same subjects more than once. The more ways you can approach a topic and write about it for different clients, the easier it is to make more money with less effort.
Look for Repeat Business
Remember, it’s easier to get work from clients you already have than to get new clients. While the majority of my income these days comes from books, not articles, nearly all of my magazine work comes from editors who I’ve known for years. That means my marketing time is slashed.
Example: a couple of of years ago, I pitched an editor with four ideas in one short, four-paragraph query. She bought them all. She knows me and knows my work, and that means it’s easy (and fast) to sell to her. Less time marketing=more time writing=more money. That’s the benefit of working as much as possible for clients you have—and maintaining positive relationships with them as well.
Climb Outside your Pigeonhole
I write primarily service-oriented books and articles about health, fitness, diet, wellness, and psychology. But that doesn't mean I have to. When a former client asked me if could write a television treatment for a new show she was developing, did I say, "What the hell is a treatment?" Nope. (Although I did wonder." I read a couple of books on treatment-writing, gathered background information, and wrote a script and treatment she was thrilled with. Now I've added another skill to my CV.
Don’t let clients pigeonhole you. If you write articles for print and online markets, you can produce content marketing as well. Your background in a particular subject can also lead to lucrative corporate gigs if you look for those kinds of opportunities. While I believe in specializing, I also believe in keeping fluid—and that’s where my last point comes in.
Adapt to the (Ever-Changing) Market
The publishing world of today is much different than that of the one I entered 19+ years ago. Hell, it's different than what it was two years ago. Magazines are folding. Publishers expect you to give up more rights for the same (or less!) money. Fewer magazines are using contributing editors. But, there are many more opportunities (think content marketing, social media writing and management, ghosting Tweets) for freelancers that didn't even exist a decade before. That means as a self-employed writer, you have to adapt, to improvise, to overcome. (Thank you, Clint Eastwood/Heartbreak Ridge, for the quote.)
Hey, I don't like change. I'd still rather use Word than Google docs, though everyone else seems to prefer the latter. I still suck at Twitter although I have loads of Facebook friends. I'm nostalgic for the days when three contributing editor gigs made up $70K worth of work for me--every year. But that was then, and to survive--and thrive--in this business, I have to be willing to adapt, and change, and yes, overcome. Embrace the same attitude and you'll set yourself up for success.
**Do you agree with the attributes I listed in this post? Why or why not? Let me know with a comment.
If you want are serious about making money as a writer, I suggest my freelance classic, Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition. If you're more interested in getting into ghostwriting and content marketing, I suggest Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs and More, Second Edition. If you're brand-new to freelancing, Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets walks you through the process of launching your freelance career.